[Marxism] George Soros and the Democratic Party

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sun Jul 25 06:37:37 MDT 2004


NY Times Magazine, July 25, 2004
Wiring the Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy
By MATT BAI

(clip)

By the time this election year ends, George Soros will have contributed 
more than $13 million to the independent political groups known as 
527's. (The term is shorthand for the section of the tax code that makes 
them legal.) For this reason, Republicans insist that the 74-year-old 
Soros, who may become the largest single political contributor in 
history, has resolved to buy the Democratic Party.

This is, on its face, a little silly. To put things in perspective, $13 
million is a fraction of what it takes to run a serious modern 
presidential campaign, let alone control a party. And Soros, who made 
his fortune as an international investor, is worth an estimated $7 
billion; his foundation alone gives away some $450 million every year. 
In other words, if George Soros really felt like buying the party, you 
would know it. For Soros, spending $13 million on a campaign is like you 
or me buying 100 boxes of Thin Mints from the Girl Scout next door.

The real significance of Soros's involvement in politics has little to 
do with the dollar amount of his contributions. What will stand out as 
important, when we look back decades from now at the 2004 campaign, will 
be the political model he created for everyone else. Until this year, 
Democratic contributors operated on the party-machine model: they were 
trained to write checks only to the party and its candidates, who 
decided how to spend the money. But by helping to establish a series of 
separate organizations and by publicly announcing that he was on a 
personal mission to unseat Bush, Soros signaled to other wealthy 
liberals that the days of deferring to the party were over. He became 
what the financial world would call the angel investor for an entirely 
new kind of progressive venture.

To understand why Soros matters, you have to slog, however briefly, 
through the mind-bending swamp of the nation's campaign finance laws. 
Democrats in the 90's became obsessed with erasing the Republican 
advantage in fund-raising, so much so that it was fair to wonder which 
party wasn't representing the rich and privileged. Under Clinton, who 
became the most powerful money magnet the Oval Office had ever seen, the 
Democratic Party and its various committees began sucking up mountainous 
contributions from what are known in politics as access donors -- 
corporations, Wall Street firms and trade associations whose leaders had 
an interest in certain legislation or who coveted a ride on Air Force 
One. Unlike the ''hard money'' checks that an individual might write to 
a candidate, these corporate contributions to the party were ''soft 
money,'' meaning they had no legal limits; it was as if both parties 
were drawing cash from an endless equity line, with power as its only 
collateral. During the 2000 presidential election cycle, lawyers and law 
firms gave more than $33 million to the Democratic Party, while 
securities and investment firms anted up more than $25 million, 
according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

For ideological donors like Soros, whose goal was to effect changes in 
Democratic policy, these were not the best of times. You could give 
millions of dollars in soft money to the Democratic Party, if you were 
so inclined, but a lot of ideological donors were not. (Soros gave 
$100,000 to the party in the 2000 cycle.) Donors had no control over how 
the money was spent -- badly, a lot of them suspected -- and because the 
party was getting so much money from large industries, the influence 
that might have been gained through such a contribution was instantly 
diluted. In other words, a $5 million check might buy you an invitation 
to a state dinner, but it wasn't going to make anyone at the Democratic 
National Committee listen seriously to your idea for a national health 
care plan.

A lot of ideological donors continued to give money to independent 
interest groups like Emily's List, Naral Pro-Choice America and the 
Sierra Club. These issue-based groups, however, were notoriously 
balkanized and territorial. Your dollars might be useful in organizing 
pro-choice voters or in preserving Pacific woodlands, but there was no 
way to contribute money that would have an impact on the overarching 
framework of Democratic ideology.

Then came the campaign finance law passed in 2002, known informally as 
McCain-Feingold (after its iconoclastic Senate sponsors, John McCain, a 
Republican, and Russell Feingold, a Democrat), which prohibited the 
parties from accepting soft money. Overnight, the era of the access 
donor essentially ended. Individual lawyers and executives could still 
wield influence by bundling small personal contributions from employees 
or colleagues, but their firms could no longer write the giant checks 
that let them rent out the party as if it were a billboard or a blimp.

For the ideological donors, however, the new era seemed quite promising. 
McCain-Feingold left untouched and unregulated a vehicle that had been 
little used on the national level up to that point: the 527. And last 
fall and winter, the surprising success of Howard Dean's campaign 
convinced a lot of wealthy liberals that a new ideological movement 
could be nurtured outside the constraints of the Democratic Party. By 
controlling 527's, donors believed, they could determine, to a greater 
extent than ever before, the message and the strategy of a Democratic 
presidential campaign. ''This is like post-Yugoslavia,'' Andy Stern, 
president of the Service Employees International Union, told me. ''We 
used to have a strongman called the party. After McCain-Feingold, we 
dissolved the power of Tito.''

Having financed projects in the former Communist bloc, Soros understood 
the opportunitites that political tumult can create. He and the more 
reclusive Peter Lewis began by contributing about $10 million each to 
America Coming Together (ACT), the largest of the new 527's, which was 
designed to do street-level organizing for the election; the donations 
enabled ACT to expand its canvassing campaign from five critical swing 
states to 17. ''I used 527's because they were there to be used,'' Soros 
said bluntly during a conversation in his Manhattan office.

Soros's and Lewis's donations made it possible for longtime leaders of 
Democratic interest groups to do something they had never done in the 
modern era: work together. Now the insular factions have begun to form 
alliances. The founders of ACT included Ellen Malcolm and Carl Pope, the 
heads of Emily's List and the Sierra Club respectively, Andy Stern from 
the service employees' union and Steve Rosenthal, the former political 
director of the A.F.L.-C.I.O. Suddenly, because they no longer had to 
compete with one another for contributions -- and because they had such 
a galvanizing villain in Bush -- the leaders of the party's most 
powerful adjunct groups were able to look beyond the more limited 
interests of their own membership.

Strangely, for someone who is supposedly staging a hostile takeover of 
an entire party, Soros said he is only nominally a Democrat, and he 
evidenced an obvious distaste for the business of politics. ''I hate 
this kind of political advertising,'' he said at one point, complaining 
about the anti-Bush attack ads he had paid for. ''I always hated it, but 
now that I've sort of been involved in it, I hate it more.'' Soros said 
his only goal is to get rid of Bush, whom he believes is endangering 
American democracy. After that, he said, he didn't expect to continue 
meddling in politics at all, and in fact, he seemed eager to be rid of it.

And yet, even if they walk away after 2004, both Soros and Lewis have 
begun to expand on what they started -- by handing off their political 
portfolios to the next generation. Both Jonathan Soros, a 33-year-old 
Harvard-trained lawyer, and Jonathan Lewis, a 45-year-old restaurateur, 
have become deeply involved in monitoring their fathers' political 
investments day to day. They have also traveled extensively throughout 
the country, asking their contacts in different circles -- business 
types for Soros, while Lewis hits up the Hollywood crowd -- for 
million-dollar checks.

Both sons, and particularly the younger Soros, are also looking to play 
a deeper role in the future of Democratic politics. Last January, at the 
invitation of Alan Patricof, a New York venture capitalist who has been 
one of the Democratic Party's most reliable fund-raisers over the years, 
both Jonathans attended a hastily planned meeting of wealthy Democrats 
at Patricof's Park Avenue office. George Soros and Peter Lewis were 
there, too, along with some 45 other Democratic donors. No one at the 
meeting quite knew why Patricof had summoned them. Then he introduced 
them to Rob Stein and his PowerPoint slides.

full: http://www.nytimes.com/2004/07/25/magazine/25DEMOCRATS.html

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